Plant-based innovation: How can
brands navigate evolving consumer
preferences to create winning
Gilbert Verschelling, Director Business Development & Innovation at DSM
While demand for traditional meat products continues to grow, consumers are also increasingly adding plant-based options to their diets as a rising number of people adopt flexitarian, and vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Indeed, DSM research – which interviewed 5,000 people across ten countries to examine current and emerging consumer trends – found that 53% of respondents said they will look for more
plant-based products in the coming three to five years. As the market continues to expand, consumer expectations for meat alternatives are naturally becoming more sophisticated. It is no longer enough for products to just be plant-based; they need to be tasty and nutritious too.
While it can be complex for manufacturers to meet evolving consumer requirements in this growing market, there is an exciting opportunity to expand and differentiate their offering. So, what are the challenges that brands face in the plant-based space and how can they overcome them to develop appealing meat alternatives that complement consumers’ favourite meat products?
Getting the taste and texture right
Today’s discerning consumers expect plant-based products that offer an enjoyable and authentic sensory experience, resembling the ‘umami’, grilled and fried flavours and juicy, succulent mouthfeel of meat products as closely as possible. According to DSM’s survey, 62% of people would eat more meat alternatives if they had a ‘better’ taste, with 28% reporting that dissatisfaction with the plant-based food currently available has led them to consume fewer of these products. This can, however, be challenging for manufacturers, as the formulation of plant-based protein often comes with undesirable flavour off-notes that can detract from the eating experience. For instance, pea protein can bring vegetal ‘green’ notes, while soy is often related to more ‘beany’ notes. And emulating the desired ‘chewy’ texture of meat without the oils and fats naturally present in animal products can make the production process even more complex.
Improving nutritional value
In today’s climate, consumer attention on health and immunity continues to rise, with many people turning to products with added nutrients, such as vitamins, omega-3s and fiber. In fact, DSM’s research shows that 60% of respondents will actively seek out food with more added vitamins over the next three to five years, making it clear that health appeal continues to be a key influencer of consumer purchasing. Rich in protein, vitamins and other nutrients, meat is widely considered part of a balanced diet. Unfortified meat alternatives, however, typically have a lower nutritional value than traditional meat products, which may make them less attractive for individuals looking for nutritious meals. To maintain strong consumer appeal in the plant-based meat space, it is therefore key that producers seek to enhance the nutrient content in their products.
Meat alternatives often rely on salt to achieve the desired authentic umami, meaty flavours and a chewy, juicy mouthfeel. Many plant proteins also inherently contain sodium due to the way they are produced. But as concerns are rising worldwide about high salt levels in consumers’ diets, the meat alternative industry is facing pressure to manage the sodium content in products carefully, while simultaneously addressing consumer needs for taste, texture and nutritional value.
A recipe for success
Overcoming these obstacles can be challenging, but the latest ingredient solutions show strong innovation potential for helping to formulate tasty, accessible and appealing meat alternatives that are also sustainably produced. Yeast extracts, process flavours, hydrocolloids and nutritional ingredient solutions for plant-based applications can deliver value across the production process. DSM’s nucleotide-rich Maxarome® yeast extracts, for instance, can enhance the taste of plant-based protein products by masking off-notes and delivering intense umami, meaty flavours, without adding salt. Indeed, these solutions help to create salty tastes in systems with lower sodium levels. And to develop various different ‘meaty’ tastes, brands can integrate process flavours like Maxavor® into their creations. In addition, DSM’s Multirome® yeast extracts and GELLANEER™ gellan gum hydrocolloids can support the development of a juicy, fatty mouthfeel in otherwise dry plant-based meat alternatives.
When it comes to filling the nutritional gap observed in plant-based varieties, brands can utilize vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and fatty acids to support the development of nutrient-rich meat alternatives with improved health appeal. DSM’s Quali® vitamins and DSM Premix Solutions, as well as life’sDHA® and life’s™OMEGA vegetarian omega-3s can, for instance, be added to formulations to boost the nutritional profile of plant-based options.
With demand for meat alternatives unlikely to slow down any time soon, we expect to see innovations in this market to accelerate at a rapid pace. This means that, to be at the forefront of the industry, brands need to monitor consumer needs and formulate on-trend products that continually meet diverse expectations. From taste and texture to nutritional value and salt content, the right ingredients can help brands overcome their unique challenges to develop next-generation plant-based meat varieties. Finding an end-to-end partner with not only a broad portfolio of high-quality solutions, but also in-depth insight into consumer needs and technical expertise, can add further value and support producers every step of the way. From selecting the best-suited ingredient solutions to optimizing (re-)formulations, the right partner can help manufacturers create nutritious and tasty alternatives to consumers’ favourite meat products.
1 DSM, Future of Food survey, 2020.
4 World Health Organization, salt reduction , https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction, accessed on 07.05.2020.